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3491 19th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
USA

415-967-2622

We grew up drinking milk tea and to this day are still obsessed about it. We started Boba Guys as a way to share the milk tea we remember from our childhood (only this time with fresh ingredients; none of the powdered stuff).

We use only the finest ingredients: Straus Family Creamery organic milk accompanied with homebrewed heirloom organic tea from Five Mountains. Our syrup and almond jelly is homemade and we use Grade A balls. (We just like saying that. )

Growing Up (Eight Years!)

Boba Guys Blog

Growing Up (Eight Years!)

Bin Chen

October 6, 2019


We are about to hit our eight-year milestone this week, so we want to document it. (Remember when we all used to journal?!) When we started out as a pop-up in 2011, we never thought we’d get here. It was never our intention to turn this hobby into a fully-fledged business. Now, we have 15 stores, 350 team members, and finishing up our first book— while staying independent from VCs and anything else that would compromise our values. It’s always been about culture.

Over the course of writing our book, we had to do a lot of reflecting. We went back into the archives— even here, we’ve talked about a LOT of issues on this here blog. We left few stones unturned and only time will tell if we ended up on the right side of history. We already got some sh*t for our straw ban co-sign. Well, that passed over. We stressed ourselves out by bringing our tapioca manufacturing in-house and dropped it into Hayward, California. We still close down our stores every year for the annual all-hands outing (and incur landlord fines) like we will next week during the holiday. Our team always comes first— even before the public (yep, we are big Danny Meyer fans). We’ve always strived to do the right thing and create dialogue, so thanks for being patient with us as we continue to grow up.

We also want to clear some things up given it’s been a while since our last public post. We want to put this in writing as we’ve said it several times on our What’s Up Wednesday segment: Boba Guys is not VC-backed. Yes, we took angel money/seed capital from amazing friends and advisors, but we are not sitting on a stockpile of $ millions.

Not that VCs are bad or are we saying it out of defensiveness, but it is perhaps the #1 question we get nowadays. That, and how much we raised. Everyone thinks we raised millions like all the coffee, salad, juice, and boba companies coming from Asia. Nope. We (Bin and I) still pay ourselves $60-65K a year and reinvest it all into our company. Yep… 🤷🏻‍♂️ Let’s just say we have very understanding wives!

We only tell you this because we want to own OUR narrative. Letting VCs take credit for what we’ve built is disrespectful to every neighbor, community member, helpful landlord, and loyal fan that supported us over the last eight years.

Boba Guys is a testament to the power of our community. We hear from the VCs courting us every day that what we’re doing hasn’t really been done before. We sometimes do wish we had $10M-90M in the bank, so we can hire faster and stop making typical small business mistakes. But we think that’s what you want from us. From all your DMs, emails, and personal letters, we know Boba Guys is a business built by the people. We are making history. If this had been about money, we would have franchised or raised a lonnnng time ago. Again, it’s about culture. And yes, Bin and I are the only people on the board. We wouldn’t be able to write this post if we had to clear this by a real board. 😜

For the superfans, this is why you’re seeing us own our position unapologetically. We are being bolder about our stance on Cancel Culture and doubled-down on our commitment to the community. It’s why we teamed up with Deuki Hong in our latest project to build a not-for-profit that focus on job training.

Most of you know we came from lower-middle class (Andrew) and middle-class (Bin) upbringings. We haven’t forgotten where we came from. As our parents get older and their health deteriorates, we’re starting to think about how we can use our platform for good in health care and total compensation packages. We are known for doing our HW, so we want to keep that reputation.

And while we have the mic during this impromptu TED talk, we want to add that we aren’t here to out-woke other businesses. Or to shame them. That’s not constructive. Everyone is trying to do their best but things happen, so we need to encourage others to see the big picture. We aim to inspire. Instead of tearing down, let’s build up.

We know some people are starting to say we’re too big. “You’ve changed, bro.” We don’t think we are as we are still getting pushed around by taxes, vendors, or landlords, but we are well aware of the social climate. We acknowledge our role. We just hope our track record speaks for itself.

So we want to share with you a few things that are coming down the pike that you can look forward in the next year:

Viable Sustainability
After our bamboo fiber straws came out, we talked at our 100% compostable goal… the compostable cups come to SF Bay Area this Winter. We’ll be the first to do that in our industry. And tbh, given our specialized products and packaging, it’s been freakin’ hard. But it’s our job. We are chipping away at the lofty goals we set ourselves. But yes, those tariffs hurt, so it’s slowing down our transition.

Radical Transparency
We’re only touching upon this briefly now, but we have a big announcement that will be coming up shortly about our finances, what we do with our profits, and how we pay ourselves in a more sustainable, responsible way.

The public and our team have asked our opinion on the whole SoulCycle/Momofuku/Related Inc situation. We’ll talk about it soon. Warning: it’s kinda radical and not everyone will agree, but we promise transparency. It starts with #FollowTheMoney.

We understand that most of the public still thinks we franchise or we’re some giant VC-backed Series A machine, so we hope to maybe start kickstart a business trend or something. 🤞In the meantime, you can ask our wives about how thrifty we are [insert Asian stereotype joke here]. We’d all love to see that market rate salary bump! 🤣🙏🏼

Empathetic Dialogue
As with the theme of this post, we are tripling-down on dialogue. It’s the only way we know how to scale our culture.

We know we’re going to make decisions that you all won’t agree with. So far, we’ve gotten lucky. To be extra candid, we know will inevitably run into a wedge issue that will cause a stir. But as we tell people in the conferences and meetings we speak at, we forgot how to have civil discourse.

We need to understand nuances a lot better. Things get inherently more complex. As companies get bigger, they are incentivized to make decisions that are in the best interest of the greater good and not individuals (as impersonal as that sounds)— and given how transparent we are with our holdings, it really is about culture. We’ve said over and over that our favorite company in the world is Patagonia, so that’s our North Star squad goal. A 100-year old company.

Fewer, Better
Finally, we still need to reign in aspects of our business that we simply outgrew. We started an in-house bakery for that reason. We needed a way to bring our ideas to life without jumping through hurdles. Our size slowed us down a bit over the last year, so we need to refine our model a bit.

We also need to make our stores more consistent. Millions in funding will get you a $250K VP of Stores that can tidy up our ship. Welp. Sadly, we don’t have that cash. But we can make incremental changes. Progress, not perfection. We know some of you are still wondering why some stores have X and others don’t. Or some say X is possible while others say they can’t do it. All true. It wasn’t until recently that we finally changed all the menus to use the same ordering taxonomy! Eek.

So yeah, that’s the big anniversary reflection. Again, THANK YOU for supporting us over these eight years. Especially our team and alums… YOU really did all the work to get us. As we got bigger, Bin and I could barely hang on and you all got our back. You helped us bridge cultures every day… in our collabs, Arclight pop up, and guest appearances on shows we have no business being on. You all gave us intros, “liked” our posts, and shared our story. We are grateful that you still believe in us after all this time.

We used to say that we just wanted to make our Tiger Moms proud. Well, now, it’s about making y’all proud. You are our Tiger Family.

Stay positive. Keep pushing. Onwards!

Andrew & Bin

#DialogueWins
#TransparencyWins
#DoTheRightThing